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ARGENTINA | 19-10-2023 20:45

Javier Milei gets a challenge from team that beat Jair Bolsonaro

A team of top Brazilian campaign strategists are attempting to help Sergio Massa win the presidency in Argentina.

A team of top Brazilian campaign strategists that helped President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeat his right-wing opponent Jair Bolsonaro in last year’s election is now seeking to repeat the feat in Argentina.

About 20 of Lula’s marketing gurus have been working for Economy Minister Sergio Massa’s presidential campaign in Buenos Aires since August, when libertarian congressman Javier Milei surged to an unexpected victory in primary elections, two people with direct knowledge of the strategy said.

Massa’s team sought out the assistance during a post-primary meeting with top Lula allies in São Paulo, as they grappled with how to respond to Milei’s agitating, social-media driven campaign, the people said, asking not to be named discussing internal policy.

Massa’s campaign didn’t reply to a comment request.

The decision to deploy the group to help Massa, the Argentine government’s candidate, demonstrates how far Lula is willing to go to boost regional allies like the Peronist ruling coalition of leftist President Alberto Fernández. The Brazilian leader’s advisers say they are confident their strategy will help prevent an outright Milei victory in the October 22 first round, forcing a run-off next month in which Massa may have a fighting chance, the people familiar said.

A tumbling economy and skyrocketing inflation have fuelled Milei’s rise from relative obscurity to clear favourite in this weekend’s election. As with Bolsonaro, Lula’s nemesis, Milei posts relentlessly on social media each day, sharing his own ideas along with praise from others and news reports about his campaign. 

For Massa, the assistance provides valuable experience that Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) earned during two battles against Bolsonaro, the once-little-known congressman who rose to Brazil’s presidency in 2018 on the back of an aggressive social media-centric campaign that took advantage of rampant anti-establishment sentiment.

The team of Lula advisers, many of whom worked for Brazil’s technocratic Finance Minister Fernando Haddad during his 2018 loss to Bolsonaro, have sought to counter it with a combative fact-checking operation, one of the people said. In Argentina’s case, they helped create a website called “What Milei Says” to confront his rival’s proposals that range from closing the Central Bank, dollarising Argentina’s economy, and enacting massive spending cuts to legalising the sale of human organs.

The effort, by a team that helped craft Lula’s “barbecue and beer for all” message in Brazil’s race last year, has also worked to showcase Massa’s proposals for dealing with a looming recession, a plunging peso and inflation rates at 138 percent. Massa, who as Economy Minister has often struggled to adopt the posture of a candidate, has had difficulty convincing the electorate he can fix Argentina’s problems after spending more than a year as the government’s economic czar.

The official-turned-candidate travelled to Brazil after the August primary to get direct advice from Lula.

By contrast, Milei hasn’t been shy about his contempt for leftists leaders including Lula, telling Bloomberg News during an August interview that he wouldn’t have relationships with “socialist partners.” At the time, he described his relationship with Bolsonaro as “excellent.” Brazil’s former president recorded a video in support of Milei this week. 

by Simone Iglesias, Bloomberg

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